One of my major bucket list items has been an alpine traverse. The route from the Tegernsee in Germany to Sterzing in South Tyrol, which is located in northern Italy, is one of the best hikes in the Alps. It’s not the most popular route for an alpine traverse, but it’s incredibly scenic, and while it is still somewhat crowded, it’s a LOT less crowded than the famous E5 route from Oberstdorf to Meran. In July of 2023, my stepdad, Volker, and I took on this challenge. Here’s the report of our adventure.
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Best Hikes In The Alps: A Woman’s Alpine Traverse
There are several travel agencies in Germany who offer this particular trip, but you can easily put it together yourself. We booked with Asi Reisen, but it went through another travel agency, Feuer und Eis. You can book it as an individual or a group, with luggage transport or without. We took advantage of the luggage transport. This way we only had to carry our day packs, which was very nice.
Day 1 – Arrival in Wildbad Kreuth, Germany
This alpine traverse is a 7 day trip, but depending on your time of arrival, it may have to be adjusted. Volker and I had a long drive to Wildbad Kreuth, and the fact that the German Autobahn seemed to be one never-ending construction zone made it much longer. Our itinerary included a 3 hour hike on arrival day, and since we were unsure we’d be able to make it in time, the travel agency skipped this and made us drive to Wildbad Kreuth, the starting point for the next day’s hike instead. There we stayed at the Pop-Up Lounge Hotel, an impressive building with somewhat sparse rooms but incredible service and great food. We ventured into town to grab some amazing Bavarian food, and went to bed early to be ready for hike 1.
Day 2 – Wildbad Kreuth, Germany to Achenkirch, Austria
On day 2, we woke up ready to GO! Breakfast was fit for champions, and we left eager to tackle the first mountains. It was going to be a long day, with a hike of 10.6 miles (17 km), gaining 2,788 feet (850 meters), and finally descending 2,625 feet (800 meters). What a warm up! We started out walking leisurely by a small fish farm, through mixed forest, steadily up until we got high enough to have our first glimpses of the beautiful views. The trail was mostly good, but after we got out of the forest, it got a lot steeper. Sometimes it was quite rocky and we had to scramble up. The weather was fine though, and we got a good sweat in and enjoyed ourselves mostly.
One of the nicest things about this route is that you have the chance to eat a proper lunch at a small inn on the mountain pastures. Once we reached the inn (called Blaubergalm), we were happy to get a break, rest, and eat! I had amazing garlic and herb pasta, and Volker ate Kaiserschmarrn, a local specialty that’s cut up sugared pancakes with raisins and is simply heavenly. Today we learned that big lunches are a terrible idea when you still have to hike a while. Even though we ‘only’ had to descend, our full stomachs were uncomfortable for a while. The descent was easy though. It went along a wide, even track that didn’t require any special attention to avoid falling on our heads.
All went well until we were at the end of the trail and had about a mile and a half left to walk to our hotel by the side of the road. Very suddenly dark clouds moved in, and it started storming and pouring rain so fast we weren’t even able to get our rain gear on in time. I’ve never seen anything like it. We tried to shelter in the shadow of a building without much success. Just then a car stopped, and the driver rolled down his window. Inside was a young couple offering us a ride to our hotel. While I’d never hitchhike, there are times when that seems like the greatest idea anyone has ever had. Today was one of those days.
We arrived at Gasthaus Marie in Achenkirch looking like drowned rats. Despite leaving large puddles at the check-in we received a warm welcome, extra towels, extra hair dryers, and lots of newspaper to help dry our soggy boots. While we obviously had waterproof boots, there’s nothing one can do when you are assaulted by the weather like that. Within 2 minutes we had standing water in our shoes. Newspaper, however, is a great way to suck the moisture out of them! But I regress.
This trip included breakfast and dinner, and after hot showers and lots of hair drying our boots we were happy to meander downstairs and enjoy a hot meal. Then it was off to bed, hoping that the water park that was our room would dry out by morning.
Day 3 – Achenkirch, Austria, to Maurach am Achensee, Austria
One look out the window in the morning told us it was going to be a wet one. Gray skies and a steady rain didn’t make us hopeful that it would clear up anytime soon, and guess who forgot her rain pants? This girl! We were happy that at the very least it wouldn’t be as hard a day as the day before. 8 miles, hiking up a total of 656 feet, and descend about the same, it should have been easy. Right? Well, no.
First we had to take a bus to the starting point of today’s hike. Since it’s so rural, the buses don’t run all that often, so instead of bursting out the door after breakfast, as is our preference, we had to sit around and wait for the bus. Despite training we were a bit sore and tired from the tough day before, and the trail was challenging as well. It was very rocky until we got to our lunch spot, and the rain made the rocks slippery. Sometimes there was even running water on the trail. We had to pay very close attention to avoid a fall. The beautiful Achensee lake was a beautiful backdrop though.
While we booked this trip for just the two of us, lots of people started the alpine traverse at the same time, and slowly we all got to know each other. A half drowned crowd arrived at the inn that was available for lunch today. We all dried quickly though, and after getting up our strength with delicious Austrian dishes we headed out into a dry day! It wasn’t exactly sunny, but hey, we were more than happy to be able to crawl out of our rain gear. The last part of the trail took us through the town of Perisau, which has a few attractions worth checking out, and then along the lake (but also along a main road) into Maurach. From Maurach we took another bus, and then a train to Fügen, where we spent the night at the Kosis Sports Lifestyle Hotel, which was REALLY nice! We are talking 4 stars, sauna, and all the bells and whistles. Dinner was prime, and our tired hikers’ bones were very happy.
While we didn’t do that, there is an option to shorten this day if the weather is too ghastly. You can take a boat ride from one end of the Achensee to the other and enjoy the views without getting wet. If you do this leg on a warm day, you can even dip into the Achensee!
Day 4: Fügen, Austria, to Hochfügen, Austria
We woke up to – you guessed it- rain. After a breakfast fit for kings and queens we trudged up a very steep hill to the Spieljochbahn, a gondola that was going to take us up to 6,102 feet (1,860 meters and promised fantastic views of the Zillertaler Alpen. Just not today, of course. However, dense clouds and rain are great if you have to hop into a gondola but you are afraid of heights.
While this day’s hike wasn’t super long in distance (only 7.15 miles), there were still 2,300 feet of elevation to tackle, and it started immediately. The path wasn’t super steep like on day one, and easily to navigate. Talking about easy to navigate: we received GPS data, a map, and written instructions for our route. On top of that the trail was well marked nearly everywhere, and we barely had to consult our instructions, which was very nice.
We got short glimpses of the fabled view, but then we rounded a corner, and it opened up to the spectacular scenery you can see on the photo above. This did not last long, and after we got to the highest point we started our slow descent of 1,640 feet. Finally the sun came out, and we got to shed a layer and enjoy the beauty of this place. Around yet another corner a herd of goats awaited us. Now, you need to know that during summer, you’ll find plenty of livestock grazing on the tasty mix of grass, wildflowers, and herbs that grow at this altitude, and there are times when you have to find your way around or through a herd of cows or goats, as we did now. The goats seemed friendly enough, and we continued downhill. When I turned around I saw that the scattered bunch had congregated on the path and followed us, herding us into a herd of cows. In general you will encounter friendly animals on your alpine traverse, though there had been a report of a cow attacking a hiker in Austria, which made us a wee bit apprehensive. (We later found out that the hiker had tried to pet a calf – duh.) After we successfully wound our way through the two sets of livestock, I turned around to find that the goats had turned around, walked back uphill and were now following the next round of hikers downhill. The path continued din such a way that we were able to observe the goats for a while, and they did this over and over again. Hilarious!
Anyway! The path was fairly wide, not to steep going downhill, and we meandered further and further into the valley. After a long descent we were happy to reach Hochfügen, especially because we had skipped the inn for lunch (we reached it around 11 am and deemed that that was too early), and shunned the second inn because it meant a one mile detour. We stayed at the Berghotel Hochfügen which was NICE! Pool, sauna, comfy rooms, and a super fancy dinner, it simply had everything a tired hiker’s heart desires.
Day 5: Hochfügen, Austria to Mayrhofen, Austria
Up until today I’d been feeling pretty good. I live in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with two active young dogs, so walking in the mountains wasn’t new to me. However, nothing quite prepares you for the steepness of the Alps (except maybe other steep mountains, haha!). Our 6.9 mile hike led us up, up, and up – a total of 2,950 feet so steep I felt like a mountain goat with exploding lungs (and maybe a little bit like crying, too). Despite that we made great progress, and while we never led the pack, we were right up front (and a little proud of ourselves). It felt like this hill would never end, but finally it did, and what awaited us on the top was nothing short of mind-blowing. On the ridge the view opened up, with green mountains in the front, and rugged, snow-covered mountains in the back, so beautiful it made me cry. (Check the picture above – of the mountains, not of me crying). There’s just something about this mix of physical exhaustion and natural beauty that makes you feel small, humble, and happy. It might sound strange, but half dead on a mountain side is my happy place.
The other happy news aside from the view was that it was mostly downhill from here. After a few minutes we reached the inn and got a nice rest, along with Holunderschorle (a mix of sparkling water and elderberry juice that’s heavenly) and Speckknoedelsuppe, a local specialty soup. After lunch, you had two options: scramble another 656 feet uphill, or walk around the mountain and have basically the same views, which we opted to do. From there it was a gorgeous walk on a great trail, and we even saw a deer and its fawn! We arrived at the end point of this hike a good hour before we could catch the next bus to Mayrhofen, where we’d spend the night. We joined a few other hikers at the inn at the bus station, again with fabulous views, and ate cake, which we strongly felt we deserved today.
The bus ride down to Mayrhofen was an adventure! It was a fairly big bus, and some of the turns were so sharp, I was sure we’d tumble down into the abyss. But at least the driver went slowly and carefully, and all passengers made it down the hill alive and in one piece. Mayrhofen, Austria, is a cute tourist trap. In the winter time it’s a favorite ski destination in the Alps, and during the summer, hikers congregate to tackle the trails.
After checking into our hotel, the Hotel Rose (which I can highly recommend – a 4 star hotel with a Finnish old-wood sauna, bio-Swiss sauna, aroma steam bath, massage showers, ice fountain, relaxation rooms with cozy snuggle bunks, ergo relax lounge infrared loungers, and a tea-vitamin bar), we went out to buy some souvenirs. Whatever your heart desires, you can find it in the souvenir stores of Mayrhofen. We also went to a grocery store to buy a bunch of snacks and sweets to take home. I love going to grocery stores in different countries to explore their selections!
After a buffet dinner we turned in early (as we did every day) to be fit for the next day’s challenge.
Day 6: Mayrhofen, Austria to St. Jakob, Italy
Day 6 was my absolute favorite day! It started with a taxi ride to the starting point of the hike: the Schlegeisspeicher, a beautiful reservoir lake framed by the Alps. Despite already being at 5,900 feet, we walked briskly on the nice, wide, and well-maintained trail alongside a merrily gurgling river. This was going to be a longer day – 10.5 miles, hiking up 1,640 feet, and down 2,790 feet.
On our steady uphill, we saw the most beautiful scenery. Everything was lush and green, waterfalls were cascading the sides of mountains, and it was so very peaceful.
We reached the first inn at about 10.30 am – way too early to eat anything, so we continued on. As we rounded the small hill the inn was perched atop of, a scenery right out of the past opened up before us. You could really see where once upon a time glaciers shaped this site, and it was nothing short of stunning. But now the real ascent began! The path narrowed considerably, and it got a lot rockier, so we had to really pay attention. Apparently just the day before a hiker had lost her footing and fell down the mountainside. On and on we went, until we got to what we assumed was the highest point of today’s hike at 7,463 feet.
Suddenly we heard the roar of a helicopter. Immediately our thoughts turned to our fellow hikers and we were worried that someone had been hurt. Well, someone HAD been hurt – only not a hiker. The helicopter landed, and left shortly thereafter, towing on a long rope a dead cow! Not a sight I’d ever thought I would see.
Upon taking a look around we discovered that the inn, which was located at that highest point, the Pfitscherjoch, we thought we’d reached, was still a little ways uphill. We hoofed it up there for a delicious meal with THE most spectacular view. (I know I keep saying that, but… see for yourself!)
With Italy in the distance, we knew we were nearing the end of our alpine traverse. But first, we had to get down to the houses you can see far in the distance in that picture above. And OMG THAT WAS NOT FUN! The trail down was narrow, with lots of loose rocks, lots of roots to potentially fall over, and I was just thankful as heck that it had been dry, or this would have been even more of a challenge than it already was. It was steep steep, too, and seemed to go on endlessly. Over just a few miles we lost 2,790 feet, gained considerable muscle in our knee extensor muscles, and crossed into Italy. It was really hard, and we were a wee bit grouchy when we finally made it to our hotel – and it didn’t get better from there. We stayed at Appartements Rainhof, which was basic but okay. However, I sat down on the bed and thought I’d broken something. The mattress was so thin, I could feel the wood underneath. Not exactly what you want after a long day of exertion. Dinner was served in a nearby hotel, it was abysmal and we had to wait ages to even get it. We were not happy.
Day 7: St. Jakob, South Tyrol, Italy to Sterzing, South Tyrol, Italy (the end)
Day 7 was perfectly blah. The first part of the hike ran along a main road, and we opted to skip that and take the bus to the start of the trail instead. Even that trail led along a road for a while, and then on and off through woods or on roads for 10 miles. Luckily we had no more than 492 feet of elevation gain, but we still had to get down 2,132 feet. I can honestly not report anything exciting about this hike, except that at some point we made it to Sterzing, got a nice room at Hotel Klammer, cleaned up and did a walking tour of the city (because you know, we hadn’t quite walked enough yet…). We had a lovely lunch of homemade gnocchi with sage butter, delicious ice cream, and got the shirt that said ‘Alpenüberquerer’ (someone who did an alpine traverse) for bragging rights.
Before dinner we had drinks with our brand new friends Dörte and Matthias, a wonderful couple from northern Germany, then dinner, and it was straight to bed for us.
Day 8: Going home
After a breakfast fit for someone who just finished an alpine traverse, we hopped onto a fancy bus, along with everyone else who had booked this hike through the same company, and were driven back to Wildbad Kreuth, where we had parked our car. That was the end of the official part. We had about a 7 hour drive back home, which took 11 instead (who navigates straight into formula one end of race traffic!!), and we finally arrived at my parent’s house at 10.30 pm.
This alpine traverse is truly one of the best hikes in the Alps. It’s a nice combination of exertion and comfort, and if you are reasonably fit, you too can do this!
Jenny grew up in Germany. All she ever wanted out of life was to leave and have adventures. Jenny always traveled as much as the budget would allow, and when she met her husband traveling became a full-time thing. You can follow Jenny on her blog and Facebook.